Children vaccinated, people treated at medical camps
By Anupam Srivastava
10 August 2007, Bihar: As she receives vaccination against measles at a medical camp near the embankment in Salaha in Bihar's Muzaffarpur district, four-year-old Kusum will be safe from measles in case there is an outbreak. Her family has been living on the raised, four-kilometre long stretch along with 200 other families that escaped when their villages got submerged in the flood water 10 days ago. Since then, bathing, sleeping, cooking has been taking place in the eight feet by 12 feet space that her family occupies. Unable to withstand the hardship of life in the outdoors, Kusum has been sick but, like many other children, but without medical attention.
While Kusum gets treated at the medical camp organised by UNICEF along with the state government, she will have protection against measles in case there is an outbreak. She has also been given Vitamin A that will build immunity so that she can fight off diarrhoea and other ailments that she is vulnerable to due to her situation. More than 200 mobile medical teams and 100 static teams have been put in place in Bihar to vaccinate children, give Vitamin A supplementation and provide medical relief in nine of the worst-affected districts in Bihar. Kusum is one of the 174 children who were vaccinated at this camp that catered to the displaced people of five villages – all of them living on the embankment. Nearly 1,300 people were treated on one day ion Muzaffarpur. Put together, several thousand children have been vaccinated and people treated till now in the flood-affected districts.
UNICEF Bihar's Officer-in-Charge Job Zachariah says, "In an emergency such as the floods, children are the most vulnerable. Most children can not swim to safety. Moreover, they easily fall prey to diseases."
Many of the children at the medical camp had been ill for several days but with no treatment at hand, the families said they could not do much. Deepak, seven years old, has had had a cold and a fever and recurrent stomach ache for the past five days but, says his mother, she could do nothing to get him help. Kusum's father Baleshwar Sahni says he himself was ill and the nearest available health facilities around 10 kilometres away – a journey he felt he could not make in these difficult circumstances.
As the news of the medical camp spreads with UNICEF and government staff informing people, crowds pour in in great numbers. "There is hardly a family without someone sick," says a mother as she rushes to get her son vaccinated. Illness strikes people on embankments easily. The Department of Disaster Management, Government of Bihar assesses that 12.3 million people, including 1.5 million children below 5 years across 19 districts, are badly affected by the recent flooding and a large number of them are displaced. The worst-affected eight districts are: Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, East Champaran, Madhubani, Darbhanga, Samastipur, Sheohar and Khagaria. More than 6,000 villages have been inundated in these districts and 140 lives have been lost.
UNICEF is currently assisting the people of Bihar in responding to several fronts, some of them being provision of medical care to the people, getting water purification tablets and devices to reach the people, getting fortified biscuits to reach the most vulnerable children and carry out surveillance to constantly assess and monitor the situation for any possible outbreak of diseases. While it is feared that the current flood may be among the worst in the past few decades, UNICEF believes that the response can match the size of disaster.
As Sahni and other parents leave the medical camp, there is a smile on many faces. The weeks ahead could be hard, but they will face it better with the assurance of good health.